You’d think branding a craft brewery would be an easy pour, right?
Turns out, in a frothy world of nearly 4,000 craft breweries in the U.S.—with hundreds more opening each year—it’s one of the headier assignments a branding agency can face.
(Okay, enough with the puns. They are hard to resist.)
Generating a New Brand Name—Challenging in a Digital World
Differentiation in a crowded marketplace is tough enough. When generating a new brand name, you have to uncover one that resonates with target audiences, synchs with strategic market positioning, and feels “right” to company owners or management.
This has gotten more complicated as digital tools, apps, and the web have lowered barriers to entry and made it easier to start new businesses, claim URLs, and generally clutter up the world with millions of new trade names.
But hey, that’s why companies hire us—and how many people get the opportunity to brand a brewery and its beers, right? And in this instance, the challenging assignment was doubly rewarding; not only were we able to give birth to a cool new beer brand, we helped build a social enterprise as well.
We’ve fiddled around with beer clients a time or two (check out our award-winning campaign for Woodland Empire) and tippled just a wee bit of the stuff, primarily as primary research to understand our new beer client. Secondary research is fine and dandy, you see, but we’re big believers in primary research.
Does the World Really Need Another Craft Brewery?
Our new client on this project is Dave Krick, a successful restaurateur (Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge) and sustainability champion, as well as a master brewer certified by a renowned academy in Munich, Germany.
His vision was to brew modern interpretations of traditional styles that can be hard to find in many parts of this country, while also using his new brewery to create public benefit in the community.
Great beer combined with public benefit? Hell yes, the world needs another craft brewery!
As with any brand in development, we began by building a strong brand foundation. This included brand values, purpose, positioning, and personality.
For this craft brewery design, we collaborated on five core brand values for the soon-to-be-named company (people, place, tradition, imagination, and creativity), with a purpose statement that reads, “Building world-class, traditionally inspired lagers and ales, while building community through public benefit.”
We next looked at tone, style, voice, and character, shaping a brand personality profile that comes across as quirky, fresh, daring, engaging, and optimistic.
(We also developed an interesting positioning statement for the new brewery, but it’s still proprietary as it carves out strategic territory we feel the brand can own in the marketplace. Stay tuned.)
This is our favorite type of client: a classic social enterprise seeking a triple-bottom-line of people, planet, and profit, with world-class aspirations. Early on, our client let us know his goal is to make memorable beers that earn recognition at the most prestigious international levels, while at the same time delivering public benefit and becoming a Certified B Corporation®.
All this gave us a good footing for generating brand names for this multilayered, social enterprise brand.
Let the Brand-naming Festival Begin!
Generating brand names is both creative and logical, drawing on both sides of the brain. It starts pretty free form at Oliver Russell. We generally start by throwing more than a thousand names into the blender, which we then winnow to a few hundred through a funneling process. From there, we get down to serious candidates. And this project was no exception, except that we went through the funneling process a number of times.
We’d get to a short list of possible names, momentum would build for one of them, an initial trademark screen would indicate potential availability, and then a deep-dive by a trademark attorney would uncover legal complications as to clear ownership of the name.
You see, it’s not only 4,000 craft brew competitors you have to consider, but also their portfolio of beer product names. Each brewery probably has 10+ beer names (at a minimum) in its portfolio, so suddenly you’re looking at a universe of over 40,000 names you have to take care not to bump up against. And this is a very creative industry, so it turns out just about every hairball name in the world is already taken.
Here are just a couple examples of names that came close in our process: Gobsmack (a small brewery in New York state had recently christened a “Gobsmack IPA,” appearing to be a throw-away seasonal brew, not a flagship beer, but a potential conflict nonetheless) and Patron Saint (legal research revealed that Diageo Spirits—humungous, deep-pockets conglomerate and owner of Patron Tequila—had in the past flexed its considerable financial muscles any time anyone approached the airspace of “patron.”)
Brand Names and Navigating the Trademark Process
We gave both patience and TESS (the Trademark Electronic Search System of the U.S. Patent and Trade Offices) a mighty good work out. In the end, these near brushes and dashed hopes on name selection worked out for the best. We wound up looking to the past in order to name the future and decided on “Works Progress Administration” as the name for the brewery. It’s a mouthful for sure, but quirky in its own right, and common usage will default to “Works Progress” or, more likely, WPA—an apt and near cousin to three other hoppy letters in the craft beer vernacular.
(And you can bet when we found it was available, our client filed a trademark application ASAP.)
A Brand Name with a Built-in Historical Legacy
The name itself has a rich historical legacy from a program that put people back to work on public works projects during this country’s Great Depression. The original WPA hired construction workers and trade craftsmen to build roads, bridges, and historical structures such as Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, but interestingly enough also employed the cultural talents of artists, musicians, and filmmakers as well. The Works Progress Administration name resonated because it speaks to the brewery’s desire to bring this spirit into the 21st century by enabling talented people to build truly great beer, and create a collective spirit around public benefit and community works projects.
Brewery Branding—Progress Through Beer
We worked with the client to shape a tagline that works as much as a mission statement as it does a marketing line, “Progress Through Beer.” (The tagline actually came from David Roberts, who will head sales and marketing for WPA—we don’t get too selfish about where good ideas come from at Oliver Russell.) It works for the types of imaginative and creative spins on traditional beers the brewery will build, as well as the public benefit angle.
Next up, the primary visual expression of the brand, its logo. Generally, this is a design-as-hero phase. Logos can claim that mantle. But in a category so dependent on brand packaging at retail, we consciously decided to create a simplified logo, one that bespoke the brand personality but wouldn’t be too flashy and conflict with subsequent packaging designs. It had to be original, strong, and creative, but not draw too much attention to itself. (Our client, Dave Krick, is a lot like that, too.)
Our brand design team explored a number of directions for the identity; ultimately a simplified logo rose to the top, one that employs a visually interesting typestyle echoing “craft,” which is topped by a slightly askew star. (The star represents a symbolic tie to historical plaques that commemorated original WPA projects.)
This logo rose to the top because of its simplicity and nod to the government program by which the brewery is inspired.
Pre-launching the Brewery Brand
Works Progress Administration won’t officially launch until late 2016 when it’s slated to begin brewing beer; but that doesn’t mean we had to keep quiet for a full year until the beer starts getting kegged.
We set a strategy to build a WPA community well in advance of brewing, and to use this following to pave the way for a successful opening as well as attract investment capital as proof-of-concept during build-out of the physical brewery.
On the community front, our goal is to ensure that an established base of thirsty customers will be in line waiting at the door for the brewery to open on its first day. We’re pursuing public relations with media and influencers, and promoting news developments and events sponsored by the brewery. And we’re actively building fan engagement via the brewery’s social media presence on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
We launched an interim website to post “progress reports” on brewery construction, and to deepen our ties through content marketing and blogging about beer and community-related subjects. This enables WPA to build an email list of people opting-in to a direct relationship with Works Progress—and whom you can be sure will be notified and activated when the brewery opens.
In attracting investment capital, the publicity generated through public relations activities creates awareness and interest, and the social media and website provide visible, credible demonstrations of the brewery’s marketing chops for potential investors.
(We’re actually taking some of our own medicine here at Oliver Russell by taking an equity stake in WPA, our first-ever impact investment. Look for more impact investments of this nature from our company in the future.)
Keep Up On What’s Brewing
We’ve still got a lot of work to accomplish before the brand formally launches and the brewery makes beer—beer label design, craft beer packaging, developing a full line of merchandise, grassroots marketing, and the creation of a civic volunteer and loyalty platform, among others.
If you’re interested in seeing how the brand marketing of “Progress Through Beer” evolves, sign up for our email list and we’ll keep you in the loop via our monthly e‑newsletter.
If you’re interested specifically in craft beer branding, the Brewer’s Association is another good resource, with helpful articles such as Three Branding and Marketing Questions All New Breweries Should Ask Themselves.